Being expat

Stille Nacht & Astro del Ciel


One of my favourite German Christmas carols is Stille Nacht (heilige Nacht), not only because its message and the sweet memories singing it with my parents at Christmas when I was a child, but also because there is also an Italian version of it, with the same melody, but different words.

The lyrics of this carol are by the Austrian priest Joseph Moor in 1816 and it is believed that Franz Xaver Gruber produced the German melody in only a few hours (in 1818), written as a guitar accompaniment. The melody and words altered slightly over the years, but this is the carol like many sing it today:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818

English

Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

The Italian version follows the same melody, but the lyrics are completely different.
Don Angelo Meli (1901-1970) published a set of Italian lyrics in 1937 that were supposed to accompany the melody of “Stille Nacht” under the title of “Astro del Ciel” (Star of the Sky)

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu che ai Vati da lungi sognar,
Tu che angeliche voci nunziar,
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You, whom the Prophets dreamt about from far away,
You, whom angelical voices announced,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts! x2

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu di stirpe regale decor,
Tu virgineo, mistico fior,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer, meek Lamb!
You of pride of regal descendancy,
You virginal, mystical flower,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts!

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu disceso a scontare l’error,
Tu sol nato a parlare d’amor,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You descended to atone for our errors,
You born only to speak of love,
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas

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Categories: Being expat

6 replies »

  1. I remember singing this once at the Weihnachtsfeier at German School here in Australia and getting distracted with my friends halfway through because the English translation provided for non-German-speaking parents was just that: a translation one of the teachers or someone had done of the German verses. We couldn’t understand why they didn’t just put the English translation, which is reasonably close anyway, and then non-German-speakers (like my mother) would at least be able to sing along as well.

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    • Rachel, I’m glad we share the same memory – although what you say about the translation is sad, as the texts are quite similar. Especially if you compare the Italian adaptation that, of course, couldn’t follow German or English…

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      • I also sing it in Gaelic, and the translation for that is also fairly close to the German. Closer to the German than to the English, actually. In fact, the only recording I know if it in Gaelic sings the first verse in German (with a bit of a thick Gaelic accent!). It would be interesting to compare it to other translations…

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    • Gaelic verse 1:
      Ciùin an oidhch’, naomh an oidhch’
      Saoghal sèimh, balbh gun soills’
      Moire ‘us Eòsaph, a’ chàraid gaoil,
      Caithris an naoidhean bheannaichte, chaomh
      Suaint’ ann am fois tha bho Nèamh,
      Suaint’ ann am fois tha bho Nèamh.

      Literal translation to English:
      Quiet the night, holy the night
      Calm world, silent without light
      Mary and Joseph, the lovely family (or couple; “caraid” has varying meanings)
      Watch over the blessed, loved child
      Surrounded in peace that’s from heaven,
      Surrounded in peace that’s from heaven.

      Gaelic verse 2:
      Ciùin an oidhch’, naomh an oidhch’,
      Nochd an reul a b’ àillte soills’
      Do na cìobairean shuas air a’ bheinn
      ‘S chualas ainglean le aobhneas a’ seinn:
      Crìosd ar Fear-saoraidh a th’ ann;
      Crìosd ar Fear-saoraidh a th’ ann.

      Literal translation to English:
      Quiet the night, holy the night
      Night of the star that was shining bright
      To the shepherds up on the hill
      And heard angels singing with joy
      Christ our Redeemer is here, (literally “Free-er Man”)
      Christ our Redeemer is here.

      Gaelic verse 3:
      Ciùin an oidhch, naomh an oidhch’,
      Aoin Mhic Dhè ‘us àille leinn,
      Gràdh a’ dòrtadh oirrn bho Do ghnùis,
      Aoibhneach an uair is Tu còmhnaidh rinn dlùth:
      Fàilte do ‘r Slànaighear caoin;
      Fàilte do ‘r Slànaighear caoin.

      Literal translation to English:
      Quiet the night, holy the night,
      Only Son of God and our delight,
      Love shining on us from Your face,
      Joyous when You are close with us
      Welcome to our beloved Saviour,
      Welcome to our beloved Saviour.

      You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QcgwT16DPo.

      Obviously it’s not as close to the German as, for example, the English is, but German and English are much more similar than German and Gaelic. Some of the places where it’s very different, it has the sort of imagery that’s very common to Gaelic Christmas songs (there’s always a mention of shepherds on hills). I think whoever translated it might have referred to both German and English and taken whatever is easier – for example, in the second verse, “Criosd ar Fear-saoraidh a th’ ann” is more like “Christ der Retter ist da”, “… is here” than the English “… is born”.

      Oh, and that’s Scottish Gaelic, by the way. Not Irish. The words to the Irish translation can be found here – http://www.omniglot.com/songs/multilingual/silentnight/irish.php – and are an independent translation. They still resemble the German words, but any resemblance to the Gaelic lyrics are only incidental to being translated from the same source. That’s interesting – sometimes with those two languages (which are mutually intelligible), there’s only one translation from another language, and then it’s just sort of re-spelt for the other, and sometimes they translate things independently and end up with similar-but-quite-different things, like this time. And actually, although I’ve given here the lyrics I know, Omniglot offers a second translation, as well – http://www.omniglot.com/songs/multilingual/silentnight/gaelic.php – which is a bit different again. But all are closer to the original German lyrics than the Italian one is!

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